I fell in love far too young, before I’d kissed my first girl, years before I’d shaved or held a job, years prior to puberty.
Yes, I was smitten. A goner. Whipped. There was nothing I could do about it.
And I was only eight.
It was an attraction that made me manic, desperate and needy. I became a tool, helpless to my addiction, a glutton always craving more.
Each time I encountered my beloved, a chemical coiled through my veins like hot wire, making me flush, shooting neck hairs rigid on the back of my neck. Once my brother saw me in just such a state, his mouth wrinkled with worry. “What is it?” he asked.
I wasn’t even old enough to lie, so I just came out with it.
“The Grass Roots.”
“Two Divided By Love.”
“What the heck?”
“It’s their new single.”
I reached into the smudged white box, which was about the size of what you might stash a cake in, reset the turntable needle and cranked it up.
I sang along in what I thought was sweet falsetto. “Every night your tears come down and I know how you’re feeling inside. Loneliness is no one’s friend, I’ve been takin’ the same kind of ride…Come on, baby!”
He shook his head and walked away.
I didn’t care. I was in love. In love with music.
My actual first musical purchase was The Partridge Family’s Greatest Hits. It cost an utter fortune--$5.99. I recall standing in an aisle at Two Schwabbies, hunched over the record rack, guts roiling as I struggled to decide which album would be my first—Bobby Sherman, The Osmond’s, Three Dog Night, Al Green, Jesus Christ Superstar. At one point, a white-haired woman in a smock approached, her face twitching nervously, and asked me if I was okay. An hour later a security guard stopped trying to hide his presence and just stood across the row, glaring, thumbs inside belt loops, a black-handled pistol snug in his holster.
That night I played my record five hundred times. Maybe more. I didn’t sleep. I sang along with David Cassidy—“I think I love you, so what am I so afraid of? I’m afraid that I’m not sure of, a love there is no cure for…”
From then on, I saved up my fruit-picking money for new songs, new groups. I couldn’t get enough. The notion of being able to actually own music—hold it in your hands even--seemed preposterous luck, making me outrageously happy. How fantastic to--whenever I wanted, without having to rely on AM radio--hear Marvin Gay sing, “Mercy, Mercy Me” or Johnny Cash falling down, down, down in a burning ring of fire.
My first 45 was E.L.O. (Electric Light Orchestra), “Telephone Line.” The vinyl was electric green, as if someone had injected apple Kool-Aid into the plastic. I wasn’t sure whether to eat the record or play it. I bought Elvis’s Greatest Hits C.O.D. (Cash on Delivery). The postman looked perturbed when I handed him a jar of coins and wadded up ones.
For a while, I thought I’d be a musician myself. I got a drum set, but was lousy. I bought a guitar, but stumbled through Kumbaya. The best I could do on my own musically (and can still do--after a few glasses of vino) is a mean version of “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb.
Music has been with me on bright days and dark nights. It’s better than a dog because—contrary to “American Pie” by Don McLean--it never does die. My whole my life I’ve loved music the way a man might love a woman. Our relationship has been at times mood-altering, gentle and tender, rough or passionate, sometimes angry, loud, clashing, soft again, sweet, screeching like a cawing bird, twanging, thumping, pounding, heart-fisting, symphonic, shimmering, serene.
And music is like muscle memory.
For instance, the events of my 12th year of life remain somewhat fuzzy to me, however I remember discovering “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night. It hit number one on American Top 40. And though what all happened to me at age 12 is vague, I can still recite every single lyric of what is a catchy, yet admittedly, very corny tune. “Jeremiah was a bullfrog. Was a good friend of mine. I never understood a single word he said. But he always made some mighty fine wine…”
I recently read that most adults listen to the same music they favored in high school. Not me. Oh sure, I like the old stuff, the classics, but there is so much new material coming out every day from remarkable talents—Fleet Foxes, Wiz Kalifa, Joanna Newsom, Girls, Neon Trees, Cold War Kids…
And I like it all. Even country. Even hip hop. Especially hip hop. Eminem, to me, is like reading Kafka on Oxycodone.
There’s music for every mood, every emotion. It can set you up, take you out at the knees. It can be one of the best parts of your day. For instance, when you’re angry or edgy, there’s no better remedy than playing “Bulls on Parade” by Rage Against the Machine, and playing it so loud that your windshield shudders.
I once heard Tony Bennett say, “Without music, life wouldn’t be worth living.” While that sounds a little severe, he’s not far off the mark. Music is a treasure too easy to steal or take for granted. Music is a blessing, bliss. It’s been with me longer than any friend. So, I’ll tell you straight away, without even a twinge of embarrassment--I’m in love, and there will be no separation.
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Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and an editor at the online literary magazine "Metazen." His work appears widely at such places as Pure Slush, Connotation Press, Thunderclap! Press and others. Please find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com